Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: "Silver Linings Playbook"

David O. Russell was dominated for an Oscar for his film The Fighter in 2010. It was definitely my least favourite Academy Award nominee that year. This year his film Silver Linings Playbook won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, shocking those who expected Ben Affleck's Argo to easily take top honours. Feel good films such as The King's Speech (2010) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) have won the People's Choice Award and gone onto Oscar nominations. Even 2009's Precious can be considered something of a feel good film, despite its very dark themes. But Silver Linings Playbook is nothing like I expected. Bradley Cooper is not my favourite actor, and his film choices are much more commercial and chauvinistic than I like, but I had a really hard time liking his character in the film. It was not until the film was almost over that I felt any kind of sympathy for him. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, I really liked... for the first time. And Jackie Weaver, the Oscar-nominated Australian actress (Animal Kingdom), does a decent job in a role overshadowed by Robert De Niro and his somewhat grating and over the top performance. It is hard to see a film that two months after it premiered at TIFF to so much buzz. It is hard not to have certain expectations of plot and performance. I knew very little about the story, and I did not expect the film to be as bi-polar as its protagonist. Although Bradley Cooper is not my favourite actor, he and Jennifer Lawrence do have a decent amount of chemistry. I just think that the overall impact of the film would have sat better with me had his character been giving more of an opportunity to be less of a jackass early on. Silver Linings Playbook is an interesting look at mental illness, though it may not be worthy of all its accolades.

Pat Solitano (Cooper) has just been released from a mental institution. He is bipolar. He lost his job, his wife, and his house after having a violent reaction to witnessing his wife's affair. Pat is now in the custody of his parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores (De Niro and Weaver). His father, a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan, has a new job as a bookie and wants Pat to be more involved with his football fanaticism. Pat is more interested in getting in shape physically and intellectually so that he can reunite with Nikki, his wife, who has a restraining order against him. After being invited to a friend's for dinner, Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a young widow also coping with mental illness. Their first meeting does not go well, nor does their second, or even their third. Tiffany tells Pat that she can help sneak a letter to Nikki, since Tiffany's sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) is friends with Nikki. But Tiffany will only deliver the letter if Pat is willing to do something for her. She convinces him to partner her in a dance competition, going as far as to tell him that it will help him look like he has indeed changed. Pat's involvement with Tiffany upsets Pat Sr., who has heard disturbing things about her. Their constant dance practices also make it hard for Pat to spend time with his father.

Maybe I have watched too much It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but Silver Linings Playbook felt like an episode of the FX series without the humour for a while. Pat is an incredibly hard man to like. He is emotionally and mentally unstable. He is deluded to believe that his wife, who had been cheating on him, would ever consider getting back together. As we have seen in The Hangover, Bradley Cooper can play a real asshole. Pat Solitano is an asshole. But it did not need to be so hard to like him. Tiffany is almost as unstable as Pat, but Jennifer Lawrence makes Tiffany more empathetic. I have spent a lot of time discussing what I disliked (even hated) about the film, even though I found it quite enjoyable. It does come across as a a very human and emotional film. Mental illness is treated with respect. The characters, their families, interact in a very realistic way. The relationship between Pat Jr. and Pat Sr. is the most pivotal of the film (more so than the relationship between Pat and Tiffany). It is necessary for father and son to reconnect, to reestablish the bond that they once had. This is a relationship that is not as prevalent in film as it should be. I just wish that there had been a little more tweaking done to Bradley Cooper's character. I wanted to like him a lot more than I did. Silver Linings Playbook will surprise you. It treads right on the line between comedy and drama. I think that with a better director the film could have been golden.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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